While Oersted's surprising discovery of electromagnetism paved the way for more practical applications of electricity, it was Michael Faraday who gave us the key to the practical generation of electricity: electromagnetic induction. Faraday discovered that a voltage would be generated across a length of wire if that wire was exposed to a perpendicular magnetic field flux of changing intensity.
An easy way to create a magnetic field of changing intensity is to move a permanent magnet next to a wire or coil of wire. Remember: the magnetic field must increase or decrease in intensity perpendicular to the wire (so that the lines of flux "cut across" the conductor), or else no voltage will be induced:
Faraday was able to mathematically relate the rate of change of the magnetic field flux with induced voltage (note the use of a lower-case letter "e" for voltage. This refers to instantaneous voltage, or voltage at a specific point in time, rather than a steady, stable voltage.):
|e = (Instantaneous) induced voltage in volts|
|N = Number of turns in wire coil (straight wire = 1) (N.B, there should be a -N for equation).|
|= Magnetic flux in webers|
|t = Time in seconds|
The "d" terms are standard calculus notation, representing rate-of-change of flux over time. "N" stands for the number of turns, or wraps, in the wire coil (assuming that the wire is formed in the shape of a coil for maximum electromagnetic efficiency).
This phenomenon is put into obvious practical use in the construction of electrical generators, which use mechanical power to move a magnetic field past coils of wire to generate voltage. However, this is by no means the only practical use for this principle.
If we recall that the magnetic field produced by a current-carrying wire was always perpendicular to that wire, and that the flux intensity of that magnetic field varied with the amount of current through it, we can see that a wire is capable of inducing a voltage along its own length simply due to a change in current through it. This effect is called self-induction: a changing magnetic field produced by changes in current through a wire inducing voltage along the length of that same wire. If the magnetic field flux is enhanced by bending the wire into the shape of a coil, and/or wrapping that coil around a material of high permeability, this effect of self-induced voltage will be more intense. A device constructed to take advantage of this effect is called an inductor, and will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter.
A device specifically designed to produce the effect of mutual inductance between two or more coils is called a transformer.
Because magnetically-induced voltage only happens when the magnetic field flux is changing in strength relative to the wire, mutual inductance between two coils can only happen with alternating (changing - AC) voltage, and not with direct (steady - DC) voltage. The only applications for mutual inductance in a DC system is where some means is available to switch power on and off to the coil (thus creating a pulsing DC voltage), the induced voltage peaking at every pulse.
A very useful property of transformers is the ability to transform voltage and current levels according to a simple ratio, determined by the ratio of input and output coil turns. If the energized coil of a transformer is energized by an AC voltage, the amount of AC voltage induced in the unpowered coil will be equal to the input voltage multiplied by the ratio of output to input wire turns in the coils. Conversely, the current through the windings of the output coil compared to the input coil will follow the opposite ratio: if the voltage is increased from input coil to output coil, the current will be decreased by the same proportion. This action of the transformer is analogous to that of mechanical gear, belt sheave, or chain sprocket ratios:
A transformer designed to output more voltage than it takes in across the input coil is called a "step-up" transformer, while one designed to do the opposite is called a "step-down," in reference to the transformation of voltage that takes place. The current through each respective coil, of course, follows the exact opposite proportion.